Quora Answer: How did the personal lives of various philosophers come to influence the various philosophies they espoused?

Oct 18 2014

Nietzsche had a lot to say about this. But it would be difficult to summarize his normally caustic analysis of the motivations for various philosophies, but let us just hint that it has something to do with affirming death rather than life in too many cases (Schopenhauer for instance).

But in general ones view of the cosmos is a reflection of one’s self and that does not just go for philosophers. And the reason this has to be so is that what we see as our world is conditioned by our internalization of that world and so there has to be a reflective as well as a reflexive quality to between self and world of philosophers, not to mention poets, artists and everyone else.

But what do you mean by personal life? Many times it is not the actual events of daily life that have an effect, but more ones spiritual life in the sense of the inner drive to know in relation to what is known during ones time, and how one reacts to that and takes a course toward the cutting edge of the tradition in which one finds oneself. More interesting still are the unconscious motives that come out in ones philosophy of which the philosopher themselves are unaware, and paying attention to that started with Nietzsche.

I think the key point is this. Philosophers who reach any depth in their thought find themselves completely out of kilter with their time and those around them within their society and culture, and are lucky if they have a few close friends which Nietzsche did have, in spite of making enemies of almost everyone, so that he ended up being fairly lonely in the end. But he celebrates that solitude and distinguishes solitude from loneliness. Like as not philosophers find themselves in solitude if they think deeply about the nature of existence because most people just never make it to a place where they can see the world in any deeper way.

Basically philosophers like Nietzsche who reach some depth in their thought that goes beyond the cutting edge of the tradition live in a different world than everyone else, they see things that others do not see, and the world has meaning in ways that others just do not understand. How this comes about is that what they have done is to have learned the tradition and then in the context of a problematic asked questions the pursuit of the answers to which takes them beyond that tradition. So the ability to see what others do not see comes from the unique synthesis of the tradition as a whole which others do not know well enough to synthesize consciously. We all synthesize the tradition unconsciously and that is what allows us to negotiate the world around us in our daily life. But the way things are in our world are conditioned by how people saw things throughout the development of the tradition the societies and cultures from which we drew our own society and culture. Philosophers are the ones who synthesize their world in a cognitive way in a discursive manner, unlike the synthesis of artists and poets. We really need all these different syntheses, and philosophers often take as their subject matter the arts and poetry as well and more and more the science of their day attempting to get a comprehensive integrative and synergistic view of the entire world and its inner potentials and outward possibilities that are hidden to most who live in those worlds.

The world really is a wondrous place in which everything is exemplified down to the finest detail which Hegel calls Absolute Reason. In other words there is actual structure to the world that is hidden from view, which determines how things work within the world and set the limits of the possibilities within the world which few realize, and this hidden or invisible structure of transcendentals is exemplified in almost everything within the world so once you have reached a synthesis of the world, then it starts making sense in a new way and allows you to see new possibilities that hitherto were impossible to perceive. We are now used to this occurring in the narrow realm of technology. But it can also occur in a wider realm that encompasses the entire world and that is what the deepest philosophers pursue with ardor because they find the mutual mirroring of everything in the world fascinating.

So let me give you an example taken from Nietzsche and Heidegger which is Nihilism. Stanley wrote a book called Nihilism which is the best definition of the phenomena I have found. Bascially nihilism is when you think there are two things that are different that are in conflict and one is good and the other evil from a limited perspective, but then you find that they are really exactly the same thing. This is what Achilles discovered about the Acheans and Trojans in the Iliad, they both take women. And his response was nihilistic in that he withdrew too much and then when Petrocles was killed he went into bezerker mode and then was too active becoming inhuman in the process. So it has been known since antiquity that our world produces nihilism at its core and this is the main thing characteristic of the worldview that it generates nihilism. Nietzsche’s final book that was never finished called Will to Power was all about this nihilistic core to the worldview, and Heidegger took it up attributing it to technology. But this is a general thing about the worldview, it generates nihilism where ever you look, and you can find it everywhere in your own life and in the lives of those around you and throughout the culture and our society. Everything is driven by the production of nihilism by the worldview. And if you know that, which is something that most people do not know, then you will see it everywhere. And that changes how you see things like the relations between democrats and republicans for instance. It is really incumbents that rule. Party is even in these times of lack of compromise really an irrelevant detail, and those caught up in the us vs them of the political system are living in an illusion, not recognizing where the sovereign power resides that drives actual decisions. Sovereign power now resides with the corporations who control the senators via lobbyists and their contributions to the extent that the people do not wrest that power back to themselves by voting against corporate interests whether championed by democrats or republicans. Corporations are the seats of sovereignty within our society. They extend their influence on us through the manipulation of congress. Our attention is drawn away from this by the apparent conflict between the dying Republican Party and the resurgent Democratic Party, but the corporations will work with and contribute to who ever is in power, and their lobbyists will craft legislation for the Congressmen for them to pass into law to specifically help them continue to exploit the public in any way that they can. But we do not have to talk about politics. Look at any level of society and what ever scale or phenomena you choose to look at the marks of nihilism will be there operating in some way that is unique to the phenomena that you have chosen to regard.

Once you see that nihilism is everywhere and organizing everything within our worldview, then you realize that the whole question becomes how do you make a non-nihilistic distinction. how do you make a distinction that does not generate more nihilism. And you see that this is almost impossible. What ever decision you make is probably going exacerbate nihilism in the situation, and not doing so is nearly impossible. It is only when you start to understand nonduality that there seems to be an answer to this most pressing of problems that no one knows even exists. Focusing in on Nihilism as an essential feature of the worldview did not happen over night, but it has been refined by many philosophers over time, in different ways. For instance Kant’s Critique of Pure reason is precisely addressed to exactly this problem of the Antinomies of Reason. Hegel addressed it with his idea of Spirit and Absolute Reason. But Nietzsche saw it a much more concrete and pervasive problem and really the key problem to be dealt with within our tradition.

One way to characterize this problem is the way that we see in Achilles. He realizes that the conflicting opposites in the war in which he is engaged are really the same. This takes meaning out of his world, but his reaction is also nihilistic which was to withdraw completely and then to go berzerk once his friend died, who actually he killed by allowing him to wear his own armor making himself the target of the enemy when he did not have the strength of Achilles to defend himself. Achilles actually was responsible for his Friend’s death by his inaction, but that caused him to go berserk and become inhuman in his killing rage until Paris asking for Hectors body brought him back to himself and rehumanized him because he knew he would never see his own Father again, and that Hector and he were alike in that, one living and the other dead. The Iliad is like a manual on how to live in a nihilistic society and how the illusory artificial extreme opposites that govern our society tear us up between them as we overreact in one direction and then the other through our hubris. The whole question then becomes how can is see through the nihilistic extreme artificial opposites given to us by society, and thread the needle by finding a golden thread which is non-nihilistic so as not to fall into any of the traps that society offers us on every side to entice us to become caught up and completely overwhelmed by the nihilism.

So this is just one example based on Nietzsche and Heidegger of how philosophers see the world differently. So for instance Heidegger never admitted that his Nazism was a mistake. And that is because in his time the nihilistic opposites for him was capitalism and communism, and fascism was suppose to be an alternative to these two ideologies. His fascism was brown shirt fascism which was purged by Hitler because they believed in continuous National Socialist revolution. Heidegger distanced himself from the Nazi movement after the pusche in which the Brownshirts were massacred and he lost power. So when we say he was a NAZI what we do not realize that there was two kinds of NAZI and he was the kind that lost out in the power struggle that established Hitler as a dictator bent on world domination. But the reason that Heidegger never admitted his fault was deeper than that even. The central concept of the Nazi ideology was the concept of the “folk”. For Heidegger Nazism was a romantic return to the German origins, and this concept was key in Nietzsche as well. That is one of the aspects of Nietzsche’s thought that was misused by the Nazis, basically through the work of his sister in reediting his work to make it appealing to the Nazi establishment. Heidegger worked throughout the pre-war years to prove that his philosophy was a better basis for Nazism than Nietzsches. But by that he meant Brown shirt continuous revolution returning to the folk basis of german nationalism. To admit that his involvement with Nazism was wrong was tantamount for Heidegger to separation from his own roots in his own country which he valued more than anything else, it would mean Sparation from his folk roots on which his whole philosophy was based as a kind of Romanticism. From his point of view Brown Shirt Nazism never lost its force to give his life meaning, and Black Shirt Nazism was an aberration which did not put the folk first but in fact ended up destroying the folk basis of german society. But beyond that Heidegger came to see that there was no difference between Black Shirt Nazism, Capitalism, and Communism. And I think this has actually become true. By their fighting with each other over a century they absorbed the characteristics of the other into themselves. So now we have something called global corporatism which has aspects that are like each of the proceeding ideologies that warred with each other in the last century. So for Heidegger all the ideologies were totalitarian and nihilistic and to admit he was wrong would be to accept the unholy union between corporatism and technological imperialism which was destroying the earth. For Heidegger the romantic concept of folk origins identification is the only real alternative to the technological and corporate domination and transformation of the world into an ever smaller and more alienated place. Folk is just the larges of the series that encompasses faimily, neighborhood, community, village, cultured society, folk (Volk). In other words it is precisely what is being threatened and stamped out by developers, and corporations, and franchies, and Walmart, and the finance industry gone out of control. It is the natural thresholds of human organization in which we are fated to be together that Heidegger believes is one of the few things that can save us from the pervasive nihilism of our modern culture and society. Thus he would council us to cultivate our extended families, our neighborhoods, our communities, our villages, our cultural heritage and healthy traditional social norms as well as our origins in a certain ethnic group with a specific genealogy and that is what we must protect at all costs from the global corporatism that threatens to engulf us in a world that is all the same, where there are no independently owned shops but only Walmart, where there are no bookstores any longer, because books are the essential lifeblood of human freedom, where there are no independently owned restraints because there are only chains left with sanatized corporate environments. There is something deep in Heideggers refusal to distance himself from Nazism, because to him what was good in Nazism which was its roots in the german folk origins is still pertinent to us today in a time where we lost the battle with the nihilistic effects of corporate technologization of society and culture. To him we would have lost that battle no matter who had won the ideological wars of the twentieth century. But of course we disagree with him in as much as the fact that since our society is not yet totalitarian that the outcome was much better, even though the danger of corporatism is still very much alive and the possibility of falling into totalitarianism is ever with us as we oscillate between ideological extremes. Basically the only thing that saves us is the constitution which we still revere because it gave us our freedom from state sovereignty. But what it did not contemplate was the rise of corporate sovereignty where corporations (imaginary people)  are given the rights of citizens. We have returned to polytheism only our gods (invisible people) are embodied on sheets of paper with signatures that were based on laws created to give run away slaves their rights that created imaginary people who did not die, and who could hold property. No one could have imagined that the worship of the gods could be called work, and the adherents would be called employees, shareholders and customers. Now we live in cities that all look the same. Where ever you go there are the same stories, and where ever you are it is now basically the same place, and this is how mening gets sucked out of the world through the homogenization of experience in a world ruled by corporations. We thought it was governments that would do that, but it turne out that governments have merely become servats of corporate interests. And as we become corporate people we loose some of our humanity.

Philosophers are the ones who say what is obvious but is not said because it is taboo and search for a way out of the conundrum that we placed ourselves in which made humans second class citizens after corporations within our society. For instance we do not put corporations in prison but we put citizens in prison. Corporate crime goes unpunished, while trivial human crimes are punished severely. Corporations have the money by accumulation of resources to bend the legal system to their will and they can destroy others just because they can afford to litigate indefinitely. Corporations control the congress via their lobbyists and their campaign contributions. And it is basically Corporations that are actively destroying the planet as we speak. There is no one in corporations to take responsibility for the evil they do. Their CEO, CFO, CTO, CxOs are the 1% who own most of the wealth and for whom the tax code is tipped in their favor only partially redressed by the recent fiscal cliff deal.

Corporatism is merely an example of how the nihilistic nature of the worldview has transformed in our time, but the nihilism is the same, it is merely manifesting in a new form. But it is pervasive effecting all aspects of our life. Zizek is a good critic of the seemingly benign aspects of corporations and how they trick us into thinking we are doing something for the planet when we buy their products giving something back to assuage our guilt. Zizek is the philosopher who is calling us today to reexamine how the corporations have taken away all the commons and are engulfing us with a new kind of economic totalitarianism, and how we play into their hands. Corporations are transcendentals because they are immortal. And the call of Nietzsche to abandon all transcendentals and instead affirm life and the earth would lead to the abandoning of the imaginary transcendentals that allow Corporatism to flourish. Nietzsche is still radical in our time. And that is the mark of greatness of a philosopher, they become more and more relevant as time passes because they saw far ahead by thinking deeply about the world they were embedded in and like us overwhelmed by. They made sense of it for us, and now we have to make sense of it ourselves in even deeper ways. And this becomes for the philosopher a personal challenge and taking up this personal challenge determines the nature of the philosophical response to the world as it appears to us. And it is in this way that the personal life of the philosopher informs their thought and abiding ways.

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